“An” authority vs “In” authority – it seems like a small distinction, a single vowel in front of the letter “n,” but it’s actually much more than that.
My guess is every one of you has worked for someone you thought was not qualified to be the boss. Some of you might even say that person was an idiot. Let’s face it, life isn’t fair and victory doesn’t always go to those who deserve it. Neither do raises or promotions. As a result we see people in positions of authority who ought not to be there. Sometimes they’re decent people but just not the most competent for the job. Regardless, they’re in authority over you and it’s usually not the best situation.
Now think back to other people who’ve impacted your life not because they were in a position of authority but rather because you viewed them as an authority. Who would you rather follow? The betting man in me believes you’d rather follow someone you view as an authority.
The difference is positional vs. personal, and that’s a huge difference. If you have authority because of position and nothing else, don’t expect people to follow you if you lose the title. However, if you are viewed as an authority because of who you are, that follows you everywhere. Having a position can enhance your results but results are not necessarily dependent on the position.
Who were authorities by virtue of who they were? How about Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa, to name just a few? None of them held office or had titles that made people follow them and yet the masses chose to follow.
It’s not likely you or I are the next Gandhi or Martin Luther King but we can impact our part of the world apart from having a certain position or title. Here are a few things I encourage you to focus on:
Become an expert. Each of the people I noted had a calling and while you may not have something so profound I’m willing to bet you have real passion for something. Pursue your passion and in doing so you might become the resident expert in your company, business network or circle of friends. When that happens you’ll find people calling upon you. For me the area is ethical influence and this guest blog is a result of my passion.
Work on character. People won’t simply follow because you’re an expert. They want to know they can trust you, so become a person of character. Do people know who you are and what you stand for? I think a personal mission statement is a great start.
Brand yourself. Sometimes people don’t know you but there are things you can do to enhance your authority. Why not brand yourself via phone mail and email? At work every email I send includes the phrase “When it needs to be Done Well!” I want people to know when they need something done well I’m the person they can count on. I also use that as the opening of my voicemail. Bottom line is this: if I want people to make that association with me then it’s up to me to make it happen. Building a personal brand is an effective way to build your authority.
I believe those are the three most powerful things you can do to start becoming an authority. There are a few other things that can add to your perceived authority and help you become a more persuasive person.
Appearance. There’s an old saying, “The clothes make the man.” They may not actually make you but studies show a suit can get more people to listen to you than jeans or Dockers. If that’s the case, a subtle change in appearance can make a big difference in your perceived authority and ability to influence.
Degrees and awards. What does your office say about you? Something as simple as degrees, plaques and awards hanging prominently in your office can add to your authority. People may not read them all but they convey the perception that you’re intelligent because you’ve continued your education. Also, if you have designations (CPCU, CPA, MBA, etc.) they should be a part of your email auto signature.
Books. I read about a book a week and the majority are sitting in my office at work in case I need them as references. They are usually the first thing people notice when they enter my office. The implied thought is, “Wow, if you’ve read all these you must be smart.” If they think I’m smart then they’re more apt to listen to what I have to say. And, when I share advice that works, my reputation as an authority continues to grow.
I hope I’ve convinced you that being an authority beats being in authority because you carry it with you 24x7x365. If you happen to get the promotion, title or corner office along the way, great! It’s icing on the cake and your odds of success are even higher. But the point is you can still be a person of influence, someone who impacts the world around you, by choosing to do certain things and be a certain person. Become that person!
– Brian Ahearn, CPCU, CTM, CMCT is a Senior Sales Consultant with the State Auto Insurance Companies in Columbus, OH. He’s one of only two dozen Cialdini Method Certified Trainers in the world. Read more of his perspectives on his blog Influence PEOPLE.